Today Ben Kuchera, of the Penny Arcade Report, wrote an article in which he explained how games journalism works in relation to content and advertising. That gaming sites put up the galleries of cosplay babes because it’s necessary to fund the better, less popular content, all driven by a constant need for pageviews and unique hits. In his article, he writes as if he’s speaking for the whole industry, although excludes himself from the process. I’d like to add RPS to that exclusion list, thanks very much, because I don’t recognise a word of how he says my business works.
I’m not going to get into how RPS’s advertising works, because frankly I don’t know, and I prefer it that way. That’s all done by someone who works at Eurogamer, with whom we have an advertising partnership. We have laid down strict rules, they follow them, but how the charging works I’ve no idea.
Kuchera makes a few statements which I want to make clear don’t speak for me, or the business I co-own.
“People like to say that the games press is just chasing page views with certain stories, but let’s be honest: We’re chasing page views with every story.”
This is a very loaded statement. It’s both as banal as saying “Newspapers only include news stories because people want to read news,” and as sensationalist as saying, “They’ll do anything to make you click!” The truth is of course somewhere between. RPS, and I can only ever speak for RPS and no other gaming site, is a business. We make money from advertising, and we get advertising because we have people reading the site. So yes, we post things on RPS in order to run our business. But how that defines what you post is always the business’s choice, and Kuchera’s frequent inference in his piece that it automatically causes nefarious or unsightly content does not speak for me. If anything, at worst his article ends up being apologist propaganda for the sites that lazily rely on crude hit chasing, as if it were the only way.
I’m feeling biographical. Perhaps that happens to you in your mid-30s, I’m not sure. This is indulgence. Indulgence is acceptable. I’m conscious of a couple of things. Firstly, that I want to process being creative, and secondly that I want to ponder what it is I’m actually doing. And it seems to be the case that I do my best processing in the backend of a WordPress site. I mean, this is essentially the ‘room’ I go to every day to do my work, and my work is, I would argue, to be creative.
I think people reach games journalism (and let’s ignore the semantics of ‘journalism’ – I’m aware that I’m not in warzones or uncovering governmental corruption, but “games writing” suggests I’m writing the games themselves, and I’ve yet to find a better term) from a lot of different paths, with a lot of different motivations. For some, it’s because it’s their absolute dream, to be writing about video games. For others, it’s because they love playing video games, and want to find a way to make money from that. (I always advise those latter people away from the career, because, well, I’m an idealist. I used to because it meant they stood no chance of getting anywhere, but I think that notion is somewhat outdated now, and instead I just find the approach personally offensive.) For me, it’s because I want to write. Why I want to write is a much more convoluted question. But why I write about video games is simple: I think video games are incredible, and they provide me an opportunity to write. (I imagine to some that’s equally offensive.)
I’m passionate about games. I’ve loved them since we had our first Atari 2600, and as much as I revel in great film, literature and television, gaming is the medium that most connects with me. It’s the medium that lets not only the story engage with me, but me engage with that story, and through interaction I receive a connection that’s unique. And because I am wired the way I’m wired, my desire is to express that which I experience, and I am blessed and fortunate enough to be able to do that in the job I have.
It’s the end of a personal era. The edition of PC Gamer that should be arriving with subscribers in a couple of days (in shops in about a week) will contain my last ever They’re Back.
They’re Back is PC Gamer’s budget section. Two pages dedicated to re-reviewing games that are either being re-released at a lower price, or coming out in a new bundle. And since 1999 I’ve been filling it up with as much irrelevant guff as I can get away with.
I’ve written 148 of them, over twelve years, which I think is probably some sort of record. And I’m really proud of what I’ve done.
My passion for magazines was born in the 1980s, reading wonderful nonsense in Your Sinclair, then Zero and the very early (pre its tedious laddish reinvention in the mid-to-late 90s) PC Zone (it got better again, of course). Inspired by writers like Rich Pelley, Stuart Campbell, J Nash and Charlie Brooker, I saw an opportunity for combining a love of silly comedy and playing games. Not an opportunity I was smart enough to realise I could take before a disastrous attempt to become a biologist, but an investment in my future that eventually hugely paid off. As a reader of PC Gamer in my teens, and reinspired by Kieron Gillen’s writing in my very early 20s, I was eventually lucky enough to get freelance work on the magazine, at the same time as pursuing a career as a youth worker. Two of the best jobs imaginable.
Very early on I was asked to take over They’re Back from Steve Owen, who had written it since its inception. The section immediately struck me as inherently pointless. The reviews of the games had all appeared in PC Gamer around six months previously, so readers already knew if they were any good. The whole spread could have been simply replaced by a small box in the corner of page 17 with the five game names, new price, and then a comment on whether they were more worth purchasing at this lower price. Which meant it shone out to me as a space for what I’d always loved about magazines: room to be silly.
Last week on RPS I spent quite a bit of time with a story about the Wikipedia entry for Old Man Murray being deleted. Rather than re-explain that here, you can read the original short post on the matter over there. But in short, one of games writing’s most significant, influential and hilarious pieces of history was removed from the encyclopaedia on extremely spurious grounds.
After we addressed this, and other high profile sites picked up on it, a review of the deletion quickly resolved the matter. In the end what it demonstrated was how efficient Wikipedia really is, and how effective its administration usually is. Of course, being made up of individuals, within their numbers will be those who make wrong decisions. This just happened to be one that affected something that we care about very deeply.
Like any sentient human, I’m an enormous fan of Monty Python. But more than that, I adore Terry Gilliam’s films. Brazil is, in my correct opinion, the greatest film ever made. And Labyrinth, written by Terry Jones, is probably the best children’s film ever. So the opportunity to interview Jones and Gilliam was a bit of a once-in-a-lifetime thing for me.
I was there for Rock, Paper, Shotgun, as they’re promoting a forthcoming Facebook game called The Ministry Of Silly Games. On the train on the way there I was trying to work out what questions to ask. I was determined that I not ask the most obvious questions, but the situation made that pretty awkward. It’s fairly obvious that everyone would ask them if they played games, what they thought of games, etc. And that seemed the right thing to ask on a site about games, at an event to promote games.
Then of course there’s Python. I recently watched a six hour documentary in which all five of them were interviewed at great length, and I cannot imagine another question about the series or films that ever needs to be asked. Either you ask the most repeated and obvious questions, or you ask about something incredibly obscure that they’ve likely forgotten in the 40 years (erk) since.
But then it occurred to me. If I had the chance to meet Terry Gilliam and Terry Jones, what questions would I want to ask them? So I wrote some of those questions down. Clearly I was tempered not only by only having ten minutes, but also by there being both of them there. It would have been inappropriate to ask Gilliam specifics about his films, or ask Jones about which area of history he intended to explore in his next book/series. They needed to be questions both could answer. And who on the planet knows more about imagination and silliness? So it was on those subjects I chose to focus. I’m really pleased that I did.
You can watch the interview on RPS, or below.
I’ve been discussing the nature of affirmation and defamation with a few people recently, talking about where we get it from, and how it affects us. And one thing I’ve mentioned, to people who don’t make their living by having their words scrutinised and commented upon by the bustling internet, is comment threads under articles. And I was reminded to write about it by the most brilliantly awful comment that appeared on RPS today. Which is below.
Clearly I’m aware of the irony of a critic talking about the criticisms of their critiques, but as much as this may be, it’s still interesting to think about whether comments can affect me.
(I want to add that I’m mostly talking about comments on reviews, and the like. Comments threads on places like Rock, Paper, Shotgun tend to be much more about a regular community discussing the topic, rather than only people popping in to tell the site why the piece sucked/was great.)
I’ve flipped back and forth on reading comments. I’ve gone through times when I read none at all – I send the review to the editor, they’re happy with it, edit it, and it gets published – so as far as my job is concerned, I’ve done what I’m paid for. Then I go completely the other way and read all the comments, and respond to lots of them, sometimes getting involved in heated discussions. The latter I finally learned, years ago, is never worthwhile, and is something I’ve at last taught myself not to do. People who want to call you names are welcome to, and attempting to reason with them is almost never going to end in satisfaction. My compromise, currently, is to read them unless they’re boring, and to respond to genuine enquiries.